Game Pace Can Impact Gameplay

In case we haven’t said it recently enough – Thank You!  When we look at how long Star Pirates has been active and the ongoing community support it receives, we are still humbled by how the community has embraced the game we made.  We are also thrilled that we are still able to continue expanding the universe with new content and features.

This month, we again added some of both.  Changes we’ve made this year include specific focus on the pace of the game.  While we cannot do anything that might damage the economy or balance, it is possible to accelerate players through certain areas where progress lags.  We have seen it in many games, that if you cannot assure continuity with parts of a story, the whole experience can be affected.  Consider any MMO where you travel between cities on a regular basis.  The distance between cities is fairly constant as is the time it takes to travel between them.  But imagine if one city took three times longer to reach but had no additional quests or monsters along that road.  Instantly the player will avoid that area of the game.

This was some of the focus of the latest Exclusive Commission which unlocks at level 32 for players.  The level requirements for the Ascensions, that large side stories within Star Pirates, are level 40, 45 and 50.  Many players quickly reach level 30 but, as each new level takes more work than the last, getting up to level 40 is more challenging.  It has always been possible, using belt runs and focusing on PVP, but there was little story elements within that part of the game.  We also wanted to make people think a bit more about going into the Ascensions.  Completion of the Upper Belt story unlocks a new search where players can find three kinds of modules.  These new items offer some of the capabilities of the types of equipment players can get from Ascending but are not quite as powerful.  Players also get some generous hideout credits, and hideout upgrades can really help players progress in the Ascensions.  Ultimately, the items and Hideout upgrades allow a sort of stepping stone for players making their way towards Ascension.

And we are already working on two more blocks of content for Star Pirates and a large block for Gates of Camelot.  Our plans for the game include more content through Sept/Oct then work on growing the community size through Nov/Dec.  We’d also like to fit in a few tweaks to the UI during that time.  Spy Battle content might slip to the new year though I’d like to fit in something before then.

One of our biggest barriers is the art assets for the games. Not that we don’t have assets, but our art team is currently committed to another project.  I can get by with what we have in most cases but resort to a fair amount of reskinning of existing assets.  For Star Pirates I actually think we’ve not used that technique enough of late.  I would expect pirates would like to paint their ships different colors.  Here are some reskins I’ve done for our Cruiser model.

Crui_502 Crui_602

Crui_702 Crui_802
So work continues as the kids head back to school.  This fall looks to be a busy one for SHG, but I’ll let my colleagues speak to that in some of their upcoming blogs.

Cheers,

Ascension live, on to other tasks

Well, we hit our milestone.  Ascension 3 went live on the 15th and as of this morning, four players have earned the “Triscending Cohort” medal, which will be awarded to the first ten players who complete Ascension 3.   Over the years, players have told us that they really appreciate the medals they can receive which are in game achievements.  One of the important aspects of a Free2Play (F2P) game like ours is insuring that there are elements such as achievements which cannot be purchased, only earned.  We pay very close attention to the economy of each game to insure that we do not create a pay to win environment.  Purchases in game are designed to move players through game elements faster, not to provide an advantage over other players.  The medals are an example of something players can only earn through actual gameplay.  Looking at the profile page of a long term player shows a kind of scoreboard of all the things the player has done, regardless of their investment level.

a3_first10     a3_path_1

Having been around as long as we have though, some of the medals aren’t quite as shiny as we would like.  Many were created a long time ago.  The game has evolved a lot since then but some elements have not required changes.  In the coming months, we hope to start addressing some of these housekeeping issues and refresh some of the graphics.  Currently the enemies encountered by players in the Asteroid Belt and Deep Asteroid Belt are the priority, these have become overdue for a refresh.  Before we undertake another large development task, there are some smaller elements like these we’d like to address.

 

Some of these small items can also have a big impact.  The addition of Giulietta’s Story to SP was specifically designed to help new players get into the game quickly, picking up near the end of the tutorial.  Anything that we can do to bring down entry barriers will increase the number of players in game. Increasing the size of the community is an ongoing priority.  Along these lines, I recently opened a conversation about accessibility in our game.  We’re looking for feedback on where players have found barriers playing our game from an accessibility standpoint.  If you’ve had experiences with games and accessibility, either positive or negative, please leave comments below or join the conversation in game;

 

http://www.starpirates.net/forums/forum/viewthread.php?forum_id=2&thread_id=36519
So that’s all for now.  I’m going to jump back into Gates of Camelot for a bit, those darn vikings are invading again…

Ascending for the Third Time

As product manager for the Starcrash games, it is always hard to build big features for one of the games.  It means that I won’t be able to give as much attention to the other two for some time.  It can really only be justified when the feature will have a big impact on a game’s community and long term success.  For the last month, I’ve been working on such a feature and it’s nearly done!

This month, we will be adding Ascension 3 to Star Pirates.  Each ascension is a full story that takes place somewhere in the Star Pirates universe.  Ascension 3 will be the first time that two ascensions happen in the same area.  It brings players back to the Alpha Centauri system which was the backdrop for the first Ascension.  This will make PvP actions possible between player in A1 and A3.  The storyline behind Ascension 3 is our largest yet with more than 25,000 words divided into 5 acts and more than 75 new story images.

A3_preview
Like previous Ascensions, this story will allow players to experience a “fresh start” for a time in a new area of the game.  The rewards for just participating are noteworthy with access to a new unique item category – Hybrids.  Completion of the story will transfer all the items and cash earned back to player’s original account, the slot for the new item type and earn players  a medal.  Two additional medals will be available when the Ascension goes live.  A medal will be awarded to the first ten players who complete the Ascension and the very first person will get an additional “first to complete” medal.

Writing this content was a very large undertaking, but we’re not all work and no play at SHG.  Having hit some recent milestones, some of the team stayed late at the office last night for a board games night.  I’m a strong believer in learning from games across all genre and platforms.  We try and check out something new in gaming every week.  Last night I brought in my copy of Starfarers of Catan.  Alas, the Dark Lady was cruel to me and on my first two turns I failed encounters which meant I could not move my ship.  It was a deadly blow to my strategy and I was unable to catch up.  But we still had a great time!

game1 game1b

So today we are back to work, busy testing and getting the last images done.  We’d love to hear feedback on the Ascensions, either the existing ones or the new one when it goes live.  Leave your comments below about the stories or tell us what board game we should play next!

Christian Latour, Product Manager
SHG Studios

Changing Trends – Studio Dev Blogs

Welcome to the dev blog!  My name is Christian and I’m the Product Manager at SHG responsible for the Starcrash series of games which is our browser based titles of Star Pirates, Gates of Camelot and Spy Battle 2165.  As some of you know, SHG Studios has been undergoing some transformation since the beginning of the year and I’ve had the good fortune to be part of these exciting changes.  As part of our new look and style, it is our intention to provide a bit of extra community interaction through blogs and developer diaries like this one.  Our studio is very proud of the library of games we currently feature and the purpose of recent increases in the size of our team is to begin some exciting new projects.

My work with SHG Studios began about 6 months ago but I have known some of the team for many years.  Prior to SHG, I worked with another game studio in Hamilton and we would see each other at various industry and community events.  When my last contract was completed with the previous studio, I began to look for a new place to apply my talents.  With a solid reputation as a growing small business in the community, SHG was the first call I made.

I’m really excited to bring my experience to the great communities found in each of the browser games.  While they are built on the same engine, the different themes offer a nice variety of play.  Within Star Pirates, I enjoy building up my ship stats and unlocking new areas and new story elements.  Gates of Camelot has some really nice equipment.  I can easily picture the sword and horse my character has equipped.  And finally Spy Battle, where I’ve had the opportunity to see some very interesting faction wars.  All three games have some great game mechanics and story content but games that offer online persistent play also require ongoing attention and that’s where I’m focused

We’ve already made some updates in each of the games, mostly housekeeping level changes but big plans are under way.  We’re looking at increased content for all of the games and updating some elements that will improve the feel of the game.  Efforts are already underway to increase the community size by bringing in new players.  The largest addition of late was a new Exclusive Commission in Star Pirates.  This new story is the culmination of a collaboration with a cosplayer from the UK.  Giulietta provided us with a really nice character we were able to feature in game.  We look forward to expanding this system and adding similar new content in the other games as well.  If you haven’t experienced it yet, we encourage you to check it out.

sp_300x600_CO13

So we encourage everyone to check back on the site from time to time, some of my colleagues will also be posting about their work so there will be plenty of opportunities for community feedback.

Quests are Coming to Starcrash

As you may already know part of our overall strategy is to build mobile games and use them to gain visibility, players, and try out new features. One way in which this strategy is going to help improve our browser games is through the cross-feeding of features that we think can work. To this end the ‘Quests’ system from ZM/GnG (and kind of Coliseum) will be making it’s way to the Starcrash world.

We know our web-based community though, and we know we need to take it one step beyond. So I have been coming up with clever ideas and making the system better as I attempt to bring it in line for these games. Now the quests have a bit more story and cohesion amongst them. Also they add interesting bonuses that players will appreciate getting on a daily basis.

We ran contests across the games which provided some good ideas and inspiration. I have pretty much finished drawing up the quests based on your ideas and want to give special thanks to the players whose ideas were used.

These players will also be awarded some points and Days as thanks:

    Star Pirates

Charron
Zed!
Odo fitz Gilbert
LiveLongChewCud
Bridgeburners

    Spy Battle

Corvus
Artume
Hycaru Sky
Shannon
dagtard

    Gates of Camelot

Zed!
Albion
Lawkos
Alcina
Raffik

Can’t wait to show you guys what I’ve been working on, but it will still be a few days yet.

ZM Holiday Release Timeline

ZM Holiday Release Timeline

The next 2 months will be busy for Zombie Moon — updates galore!  All positive we hope. Assuming all goes smooth there will be updates for the other games too.

 

First a bit of background: Since the launch of Zombie Moon one year ago we’ve poured hoursSHG-HEADER3 into getting the technology right for Zombie Moon.  We’ve explored 3 different technologies and conducted full rebuilds of the game.  We’ve spent well over 1,000 hours of work where benefits can’t be seen directly.  It’s been incredibly frustrating work for the team – we’d rather be adding cool new fun features, however – the long, painful path is done. With Snakehead Game’s adoption of Unity 4.6 we’ve hit the Promised Land. We have been working on new features for the past 3 weeks and we’re actually slightly ahead of deadlines.  So we feel confident letting you in on the plans for its evolution now.

… And a bit more background: Figuring out the right technology that actually works is difficult.  As well as using, testing and upgrading three technologies this year (Phonegap, Unity 4.4, Unity 4.5 with NGUI, and now finally Unity 4.6), we had also tried Corona and AIR a year ago.  Working through this process with a live game is a bad idea. We did it so that we could keep delivering upgrades, but it is hard to build stuff, and test it without breaking code that is live. So we shifted to working on something else.  We’ll talk about that later.

 

What does this Mean for StarCrash Games? (www.starpirates.net , www.spybattle.com, & www.gatesofcamelot.com ) We know we need mobile interfaces for all games. That’s where the world is right now. Our mobile modes are very efficient for existing players, but don’t bring in new players.  Without new players, our games will die over time.  We need to cultivate our existing titles with new technologies, but that gets complicated. So here’s the plan for the StarCrash games:

Step 1 – Efficient cross-promotion between our existing games.

Step 2 – Bring over (some) features we’re testing in the mobile world; including tasks and a better introduction, along with creating new content. This is cool for existing, and new players.

Step 3 – Figure out then develop getting something into the app store for those games, that is both interesting and yet not overly complex.  Security is a big issue as well.  This is a lot of work.

 

What does this mean to Zombie Moon?  Zombie Moon got so much attention and effort in 2014, and yet there is little to actually show off as new features. This sucks for everyone involved – players and developers as well. So the plan is:
Santa Claws
Step 1 – Update Zombie Moon from Unity 4.5 NGUI into 4.6  That started Dec 8th and targeted finished by mid January.  The improvements in the 2D environment of Unity 4.6 provide great improvements in efficiency and let us focus more on new, fun features.

Step 2 – Add in some new content. It’s actually Christmas & New Year related content. Not incredibly complex, but fun! 🙂  It’ll be some new mission content added once per week during the season, then removed around Jan 6th.

Step 3 – Pausing wars for 3 weeks of the Christmas Season, (Last war starts Dec 11th, restarts Jan 6th, war bonuses do not extend over the break).  World Chat will be activated the same week of the last war, but this means that SQUAD CHAT will NO longer be active. For now we can’t do both, and World Chat seems the clear favourite (and better for new players too). We intend to bring it back, and add new features such as muting, but we can’t efficiently do updates until the 4.6 is in place.  We’re not going to waste our time spending 2 weeks to build something in 4.5 that we can build AND test in 2 days in 4.6. Let’s do wins here.

Step 4 – About World Chat. It will NOT be moderated.  The Admins will NOT be in the chat as Admins, even.  Over time, we will be adding in both World and Squad chat.  Also, we will add the nannybot (replacing swears with funny words), and players able to ignore other players. But that will take time, certainly after conversion to 4.6.  Until then please remember you asked for this so please play nice and don‘t make us regret this.

Step 5- Add new features including “daily” quests, tasks (i.e.  complete this action 10 times for a bonus), and a much improved introduction. We need tasks to create a great introduction That introduction is what is going to drive new players into Zombie Moon, and the new features, plus social side, will offer them a reason to stay and play.  These will be live end of Jan or early Feb on Android, week after on iOS.

Step 6 – Promotion of Zombie Moon, and cross promotion to other games. We’re also adding in new ways for free players to get bonuses, and better things for supporting players.

 

So what happened to Admin256? After 7 years of running a company, we need to mix things up. We’ve had the same jobs for 7 full years – no changes, no promotions, no growth personally – we need new challenges. Plus, our team is now strong in many ways, and needs their own challenges.  So 256 is really stepping back and doing research and coding on some deep ‘stuff’ we’re coming out with over the year. This ‘stuff’ will be added into new games, but ideally back integrated into existing ones as well. Too soon to announce details, but you’ll see!

 

Anything else? Yes, SHG expects to continue to grow the team this year. We hired 2 new staffers a few months ago, and just added a new person for a 6 week contract to support the 4.5 to 4.6 growth. We are limited to the number of team members in the present office so we’ll need to move if we keep growing.  For all its hardships on the coding side, 2014 is a great year for our business.  With government supports, revenues are quite solid, and so many great pieces are in play. Now to make improvements to our games!

 

You get Government Supports?  Yes. Oh yes.  And it subsidizes a lot of your game play. Ontario is a great place to make games.  ArrBilly spends a lot of his time networking and learning about these, and Ice implements them.  Rob (a new staffer) is also helping administer these government supports.  So that’s where a lot of our time goes. And yes it’s worth it. The twist is that these do alter our strategies and tactics (which is the whole point from the government point of view, to maximise local growth).  So government wants us to create new games (yay!), and if we do we can maximise these supports.  Making sure the new games have features that can be easily added to existing games is therefore really important.  So, let’s be clear, creating new games is cool in itself, but also the best way for us to support existing games. (This isn’t super obvious, I realise, but it’s real.)

So, new Games?  Yup. And supporting existing ones too.  Now that our focus is off of core tech issues, we can do new, interesting stuff in all games.  Details to be announced as time rolls on.  We also want to see about distribution deals for the new games to really expand their success and allow for more updates and great new game features, but that depends upon their initial success, and the success of Zombie Moon and our other games. With this plan, we hope that everyone wins.  We’re excited by the opportunities and direction of Snakehead Games for the future and hope that you’ll enjoy the ride along with us.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and to a Great 2015!

Cheers, Admin ArrBillyzmtime

 

Tentative Zombie Moon Holiday Party Plan

December 10th

  • Holiday Missions Volley 1

December 11th

  • World Chat Reactivated, Replacing Squad Chat for now. (Both are live in Late Jan or so.)
  • Last War of the Holiday Season

December 15th – 17th

  • Holiday Missions Volley 2
  • Wars Offline – Peace on Callisto from Dec 18th to Jan 7th.

December 23rd

  • Holiday Missions Volley 3

December 30th

  • Holiday Missions Volley 4

Jan 6th

  • Holiday Missions Removed
  • Wars turned on for restart of Jan 8th
  • Provide some details of the new project we’ve been working on. Do some trial tests.

Jan 15th

  • Zombie Moon in 4.6 at SHG. Testing commences.
  • Work on new features in Zombie Moon begins – tasks, quests, improved introduction, better squad chat etc., If they can be brought in, they are live end of January (or so).
  • Around this time we should be launching our new project.
  • Show first steps in adding quests, improving tasks, and introductions in StarCrash games.

Toaster Hunt

Pirates! There be a treasure, rare and mythical, that ranks among the greatest in the Galaxy. Few echo its words, and those that do speak with reverence and hushed tones. Be warned, this treasure has made it’s way to our corner of the galactic community. It is, none other than… Space Toast. 😮 (<—shocked face)

What is the Toaster Hunt?

As the metaphorical dust settles after an invasion only one pirate finds the Mythical Toaster that the invaders left behind. Other pirates may steal or otherwise find this toaster by attacking the player who currently has it.

If you have the toaster:
– Stay out of the shipyard! If you are in the shipyard you will drop the toaster and a random online player (who is not in the shipyard, lost, in ascension, or frozen) will pick it up.
– Move around! If someone attacks you and wins they get the toaster instantly. If they attack you and lose they can still knock it loose and you will drop it! It will then be picked up by a random online pirate
– Use cloak + SSC! If you are hard to hit you may be able to hold on to the toaster for longer. It also makes it slightly harder to pin down your location
– Do not use a Letter of Marque, as it offers no protection to you from attacks
– Do not Ascend. Choosing to ascend makes you instantly drop the toaster, and it gets picked up by a random online player.
– You are not immune. Normal attacking immunity does not apply if you are currently holding the toaster

If you do not have the toaster:
– Use the “Hunt” hints to track your prey. These appear in the same location as invasion notices
– Attack the person who has the toaster even if you are too weak to win, if you manage to dislodge it (50% chance) it still counts as a find/claim for you. There is a prize for doing this! Also you help to diminish their chance of winning.
– Stay out of the shipyard! If the toaster is dropped you can find it if you are online but not if you are in the shipyard, lost, in ascension or frozen. Remember chatting alone does not count for activity
– Use cloak+SSC! If you attack the person who has the toaster and win their event log will tell them who took it from them. They can instantly attack you and take it back. But if you are cloaked this can help to cover your tracks.
– Check player profiles! You may see a hint to indicate that they have the toaster.

In the end the pirate who has the toaster will win a prize. There are equivalent prizes for finding the toaster the most, and holding the toaster the longest. One pirate can win multiple (or all of the) prizes. The prize is 1,000,000 in item credits for your Save for Ship fund, unless you have the best ship in which case you receive it to your Galactic Credit account.